The top things Kansas City is famous for include art, history, BBQ and a mighty good time. I’ve asked Kansas City local, Sage Scott of Everyday Wanderer to show us the top Kansas City attractions and tell us the best things to do in Kansas City. But first…
Where in the World is Kansas City?
Straddling two states in the center of the United States, Kansas City is hipper than most people expect from America’s heartland. With more fountains than Rome, more boulevards than Paris, a cornucopia of award-winning chefs, and two million of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, it’s easy to find things to do Kansas City.
From art and history to food and shopping– the things Kansas City is famous for– there is a lot to do, see and taste in Kansas City. These are the things to do, see, and taste to fall in love with Kansas City.
Fun Fact: Fans of Netflix’s Queer Eye may recognize Kansas City as the setting for Season 3. Here’s how to experience Kansas City like the Fab Five.
Kansas City for Art Lovers
From street art to fine art, there are many things for art lovers to see and do in Kansas City. And what’s even better is that every recommendation in this section is absolutely free which helps you put more of your travel budget toward Kansas City’s world-famous barbeque. (More on that shortly…)
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Set on acres of green, manicured lawns accented with sculptures, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is one of the top things to do in Kansas City for art lovers. While the museum is most widely known for its extensive collection of Asian Art, I really enjoy the Native American galleries and Hallmark Photographic Collection.
Outside the museum, be sure to stroll through the sculpture garden, explore the glass maze, and snap a selfie with one of four, oversized badminton shuttlecocks.
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Identified by the giant spider sculpture out front, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is a small, but well-designed contemporary art museum in Kansas City. What it lacks in a permanent collection it more than makes up for with temporary exhibits that are updated about every three months.
Kansas City Murals
If street art is more your style, Kansas City has you covered. From early explorers like Lewis & Clark to jazz pioneer Count Basie, you’ll find murals showcasing some of Kansas City’s history. From our 2015 World Series winning baseball team to Janelle Monae, the gorgeously talented singer, songwriter, and actress who grew up in Kansas City, you’ll also find murals that honor hometown heroes. And you’ll find murals that profess our unconditional love for the City of Fountains.
Kansas City for Food Lovers
Home to nearly 100 barbeque joints, Kansas City’s name has been synonymous with slow-cooked, smoked, and grilled meat for more than a century. And while you should absolutely not leave Kansas City without trying the barbeque, there are other things for food lovers to taste when they visit.
Kansas City Barbeque
Kansas City’s legendary barbeque got its start with Henry Perry. Often called the father of Kansas City barbeque, Perry first sold smoked meats to workers in Kansas City’s Garment District before opening a restaurant in the 18th & Vine neighborhood that would become known as Arthur Bryant’s, one of the best things Kansas City is famous for.
For the best Kansas City barbeque experience today, I recommend the following restaurants:
- Arthur Bryant’s, where Kansas City barbeque was born
- Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, a Kansas City Tradition Since 1957
- Q39, Best for Brisket
- Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, the Current King of Kansas City Barbeque
- Jones Bar-B-Q, a rising star in Kansas City’s barbeque scene thanks to Season 3 of Queer Eye
James Beard Award Winners and Nominees
But as finger-licking good as the barbeque is in Kansas City, this town is more than smoked meat. From fried chicken to delectable desserts, foodies will also want to check out these Kansas City restaurants when they visit the Heartland:
- Bluestem, enjoy a seasonally-inspired, 10-course meal from a dynamic duo of husband and wife chefs
- Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, in addition to an amazing menu at the Rieger, don’t miss the chance to head out back and downstairs to Manifesto, a speakeasy that will take you back to the days of Prohibition
- Rye, from fried chicken to homemade pie, locally-sourced American classics in an upscale but cozy setting
- Stroud’s, pan-fried chicken and classic family-style sides
Kansas City for History Lovers
From baseball to travel, from World War I to the president who ended World War II, Kansas City has plenty to offer history lovers when they visit because history is one of the best things Kansas City is famous for.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
In one of America’s less honorable moments, it was acceptable to segregate everything from drinking fountains to professional sports. So the Negro American League was created to provide African Americans the opportunity to play professional baseball.
In a building shared with the American Jazz Museum, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is dedicated to preserving this part of America’s baseball history. Because the Kansas City Monarchs were the most successful team in the Negro League, it makes sense that this museum honoring Hall of Fame legends like Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson would be located in Kansas City.
Kansas City’s Union Station
At the time it opened in late 1914, Kansas City’s beautiful Beaux-Arts train station was the second-largest in the country. Unfortunately, it fell into decline and disrepair as Americans traveled increasingly by car and plane after World War II, and closed its doors completely in the 1980s. But the 100-year-old architectural beauty was revived and reopened in 1999. Today Kansas City’s Union Station is once again bustling with activity!
One of my favorite things to do at Kansas City’s Union Station is visit the permanent Union Station Stories exhibit. It starts at the staircase in the southwest elevator vestibule and continues through mezzanine levels two and three. For more fun and adventure at Union Station, visit Science City, the Planetarium, the Escape Room, the Extreme Screen movie theatre, or a special exhibit.
National World War I Museum and the Liberty Memorial
While the Liberty Memorial has honored the fallen of World War I since 1926, the US’s only museum dedicated to the Great War opened in 2006. Enter the exhibit dedicated to educating future generations about the “War to End All Wars” via a glass bridge with a field of red poppies below. Just as the scarlet-colored flowers symbolized the loved ones lost during World War I, each of the 9,000 below represents 1,000 soldier deaths.
Even if you don’t go inside the National World War I Museum, it’s still worth a visit to the grounds. From the base of the Liberty Memorial, you’ll be treated to one of the best views of Kansas City. And, for just a few dollars, you can purchase a ticket to take the elevator up the Liberty Memorial for an even more amazing view.
Harry S. Truman Library and Museum
Although he was born in Lamar, Missouri, about two hours outside of Kansas City, the 33rd president of the United States was largely raised here in Kansas City. Truman was not born into a wealthy family and was the last president to not have a college degree. He read constantly and worked hard to achieve success, ultimately serving our nation during World War I and bringing World War II to an end.
Spend a day in Independence, Missouri, just 20 minutes east of downtown Kansas City, to learn more about the only president from Missouri and his contributions to America. History buffs will also enjoy touring the Truman home at 219 North Delaware in Independence, Missouri, and the Truman family farm in nearby Grandview, Missouri.
Kansas City for Shopping Lovers
About three miles south of downtown Kansas City, the Country Club Plaza is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Kansas City. But Kansas City also offers alternatives to this traditional outdoor shopping district.
The Country Club Plaza
The Country Club Plaza was the nation’s first shopping center designed for patrons arriving by car. Inspired by the architecture of Seville, Spain, visiting the Plaza always makes me feel like I’ve been transported from America’s heartland to Europe. Parking is always free, and it’s a lovely place to stroll tree-lined boulevards and admire the many fountains and sculptures. With a wide variety of restaurants and shops ranging from Bath & Body Works and Forever 21 to Burberry and Tiffany’s, there’s a little something for everyone at the Plaza. Even if it’s just window shopping.
The Country Club Plaza is especially magical at two times throughout the year. Typically held the third weekend of September, the Plaza Art Fair is a Kansas City tradition. For that long weekend, nine city blocks of the Plaza are closed to traffic and converted to a pedestrian-only experience featuring artists from around the world, live music, and local cuisine.
As the winter holidays approach, the Plaza prepares for the annual lighting ceremony. Against a backdrop of live music and horse-drawn carriages. At precisely 6:54 pm, the dark (often cold and sometimes dreary) night is immediately transformed into a spectacular scene full of bright bulbs and cheery color. This Kansas City tradition began back in 1925 when a single strand of 16 brightly colored lights was hung above a doorway.
Today, more than 80 miles of 280,000 multi-colored bulbs outline every window and tower of the Country Club Plaza. You can enjoy the Country Club Plaza lights from 5:00 pm to 3:00 am daily from Thanksgiving evening through mid-January when you visit Kansas City for the holidays.
The West Bottoms
In the part of Kansas City that was once a stockyard and livestock exchange, historic brick buildings now offer one-of-a-kind, affordable shopping. Open every weekend, discover antiques, vintage clothing, unique home decor, and other finds when you visit the West Bottoms in Kansas City.
Are You Ready to Visit Kansas City?
This increasingly popular Midwest destination is full of art, culture, history, and more. Are you ready to fall in love with Kansas City?
So now that you know all of the things Kansas City is famous for, where are you going to go first? Let us know in the comments.
About Everyday Wanderer
After growing up living all over the United States and Europe, Sage Scott writes her travel blog with a midlife traveler’s perspective from America’s Heartland. From Kansas City, the Midwestern city affectionately called the Paris of the Plains (and the undisputed Barbeque Capital of the World), Sage shares her experiences and provides helpful travel tips on her blog, Everyday Wanderer.
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